Moria / Lesbos: Registration chaos, police violence, hunger, thirst and sleeping rough

October 3: Registration queue in Moria / copyright: Salinia Stroux

October 3: Registration queue in Moria / copyright: Salinia Stroux

In the first days of October 2015 Moria has become for one more time a nightmare to refugees and activists alike even though registration procedures have been speeded up since September. Anyhow, the system changes every day with no one knowing how to actually get documents. The despair of the people arriving wet from the coasts, staying outside in the cold without shelter, food or water, medication and without any information on what to do – specifically in the nights – is creating anxiousness and stress. Hundreds of refugees stand for hours and through all of the night in queues: One day on the upper gate, the next day on the another gate, once with extra queues for families, once without…. While many refugees are pushing to enter and get registered, riot police is controlling the gates with clubs and tear gas by force.

Moria officially includes since a few weeks a First Reception Center (FRC) and a Pre-removal center. The different sections just look alike though.

Unaccompanied minors in Moria FRC / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Unaccompanied minors in Moria FRC / copyright: Salinia Stroux

In the First Reception Center unaccompanied minors are waiting to be send to open reception facilities. In times highly vulnerable persons such as survivors of shipwrecks who lost family members are “hosted” behind the barbed wire of the FRC too, but this is seemingly the exception and not generally applied rule until now. NGOs are providing assistance mainly in the FRC as their contracts are with the First Reception Service and the pre-removal center is run by the police. In the nights many rooms are illuminated. One can see the empty beds. Newly arriving refugees pass by the fenced containers asking what this is only to continue and finally sleep outside lacking any shelter.

As long as men are standing in the queue, their women and children sleep aside in the dust to be close in case they reach their turn  / copyright: Salinia Stroux

As long as men are standing in the queue, their women and children sleep aside in the dust to be close in case they reach their turn / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Meanwhile the pre-removal center, which was holding until mid-September the newcomers who had registered in the port and were waiting for their documents is empty during the nights as catering services had to be cut since September 18th. Refugees are brought inside this section just for registration in order to get their documents and leave immediately again.

A child sleeps next to his mom merely covered by a wet blanket / copyright: Salinia Stroux

A child sleeps next to his mom merely covered by a wet blanket / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Other than the “inside” there is also the “outside inside” area, inside the fenced area of Moria but outside the pre-removal center and the FRC. While dozens of tents have been set up there since long time to host the newcomers waiting for their documents and more have been brought in the last days including a huge tent of the UNHCR, there are still hundreds of people without shelter who stay outside. Among them are many highly vulnerable persons such as new born babies, elderly or sick persons. Since the weather got better again the last days arrivals are again on the rise, the tents do not suffice and newcomers have to stay up to three days currently surviving without food and water, doctors and medication, blankets / sleeping bags, dry clothes and shelter.

Refugees sleeping outside of the locked UNHCR tent / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Refugees sleeping outside of the locked UNHCR tent / copyright: Salinia Stroux

It is during the nights when Moria shows its most ugly face with no access to basic needs and no one being present to advise, assist and support refugees except a hand full of volunteers (locals and foreigners) doing whatever possible to help as many as possible. The photo of small Aylan washed at the shores of Turkey motivated specifically the foreigners among them to do something somewhere needed and led them finally to Lesbos and Moria. The “abandoned camp” shocked the new volunteers who continue offering their support as long as possible after noticing the absolute absence of any human rights organization during nights. But the problem is as usual where to start and more helping hands are needed!

“Where can I find water? Where can I get a tent? Is there no food provided here? I am hungry. How and where do I have to register? Do you have diapers? My baby has high fever. …”

Sleeping in the garbage bags / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Sleeping in the garbage bags / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Hundreds of people are sleeping outside on the plastic nets used in the neighboring fields for the olive harvest. Some even cover themselves with them or with garbage bags lacking blankets or sleeping bags. So does the old Afghan man who is collecting plastic from the garbage bins. He carries it to the ruin where he and his underage son have prepared to sleep and covers his son while staying himself unprotected in the cold.
Four toddlers in wet clothes try to sleep here / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Four toddlers in wet clothes try to sleep here / copyright: Salinia Stroux

And so do the two families who have arrived newly after a dangerous trip in a stormy night being wet all over. They sleep in between two trees on the floor. The four toddlers aged between 1-3 are covered provisory with the wet scarves of their moms. “We lost everything in the sea. We got sick. Our children are cold.” And there are many more…

Waiting for the queue / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Waiting for the queue / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Dozens of people light fires burning the plastic to warm themselves but also to dry their wet clothes. Smoke clouds are hanging over the camp. Mothers and dads holding their babies and toddlers in the arms to warm them, sit in the registration queue sometimes over whole of the night hoping to get a chance to enter and fearing to lose this chance if going to any tent to sleep. A young father sitting at 6 o’clock in the morning in the queue and holding his toddler in his arms has no blanket to cover his child:

“I cannot sent my wife and children back to the tent. We did that yesterday, and then when it was my turn, I couldn’t call them soon enough and we lost our chance. Now we have to stay all night in the cold and hope to reach registration services.”

Riot police is closing the way to registration / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Riot police is closing the way to registration / copyright: Salinia Stroux

When newcomers are pushing to much in the queue riot police start beating with clubs or throw tear gas and everyone runs away for some minutes just to return to the queue quickly when things get more relaxed again. The line of riot police officers closing the way to the registration gates is meant to keep order among the many single men on the one side and the families on the other side of whom the latter should get prioritized. But the queueing system is not clear to anyone as there is a general lack of information specifically in the nights where no interpreters are present.

Housseyn is a 20-year old Afghan. He came here by himself and it is his second night in Moria. Some of his compatriots – young men – are trying to sneak behind the riot police line in the shades of a family who got allowed too pass. They provoke a few kicks in their direction and some swearwords by the officers. Housseyn gets angry: “Shame on you!” he shouts to one guy who is running away while laughing.

“I fear I will never reach the registration. The queue didn’t move at all since the morning. The basic problem is that there is no system. Why don’t they just give numbers to people as soon as they arrive in the camp so every one has his turn? They should have one queue for single men and one for families only. The families should get prioritised of course, but there must reach also a turn for the single men. Take 10 families and then 3 single men, or something like that. They could just give us the numbers and tell us to come back a specific time and day but to be sure to enter then so no one woult wait without reason and there wouldn’t be tensions. Without a system many people are desperate to enter and brake the queues.”

Even after police state they wouldn’t continue registering that night and until the next morning, people don’t move a centimeter away from the queue.

Never ending queue / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Never ending queue / copyright: Salinia Stroux

There are still so many stories untold: Of the 8-year-old child who got separated from its family after falling asleep in the bus; the Irani family who lost a mother on the way to Greece not knowing if she drowned or if she stayed behind; The traumatized Iraqi man who was standing in Moria for 6 days fearing someone would kill him and who denied sleeping; the dozens of people sleeping outside of the new and empty UNHCR tent as its doors were locked; the Syrians who arrived newly from the sea all wet and didn’t know how to reach Kara Tepe (camp for Syrians); the many single men and minors without jackets, who upon receiving one of the donated pieces of clothes surprise us by having put actually their jacket on some toddler or old man or woman, which they then get back; the 15-year-old boy dressed only in a T-Shirt and some trousers who fell asleep while his had was hanging over the fire; the old women covered in two big black garbage bags, the 5-year-old crying because of hunger;
Man holding his sick wife in his arms / copyright: Salinia Stroux

Man holding his sick wife in his arms / copyright: Salinia Stroux

the young man holding his beloved sick wife tight in his arms to warm her while she is only covered with a garbage bag; the young man who fainted while waiting for hours in the queue without something warm to dress and without any food; the dads and moms standing on the queues holding small packages in their arms looking like a piece of warm bread covered with a blanket, where actually a newborn is hidden in; the dusty floor outside of Morias’ gates being covered by cramped bodies of freezing people…

“Where are human rights here?”

That is the question most heard in Moria.


all photos copyright: Salinia Stroux

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